NATO chief plays down divisions as allies mark anniversary

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The United States and its allies are stepping up cooperation in response to Russian aggression, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Monday while playing down differences among members as the military alliance marks its 70th anniversary.

Foreign ministers from NATO countries are meeting in Washington this week for the occasion, determined to show a united front in the midst of a long military stalemate in Afghanistan and tensions with Russia returned to Cold War era levels.

But as NATO deploys thousands of troops and equipment to deter Russia and seeks solutions to fast-evolving new threats such as cyberattacks and hybrid warfare, its biggest challenge arguably lies within.

Damaging infighting over defense spending and authoritarian tendencies exhibited by some allies undermine NATO’s values, according to experts.

“The strength of NATO is that despite these differences, we have always been able to unite around our core tasks. That is, to protect and defend each other,” NATO chief Stoltenberg said in Brussels before the trip.

Stoltenberg has talks with US President Donald Trump planned for Tuesday.

He is scheduled to address Congress on Wednesday.

A big source of the internal strain is Trump’s recurrent demand that countries devote an amount equal to at least 2 percent of GDP to defense spending - though that metric takes no account of how well the money is spent.

The White House said last month in a statement about Stoltenberg’s talks with Trump on Tuesday that the two would “discuss the unprecedented success of NATO, including the recent increased commitments on burden-sharing among European allies and ways to address the current, evolving challenges facing the alliance.”

Trump is not scheduled to appear at the upcoming talks of NATO foreign ministers, but he is expected to attend a leaders’ summit in London in mid-December.

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